Audi A3 1.8 TFSI Sport

The new - and rather excellent - cabrio version of the Audi A3, complete with what Audi claims is the fastest operating electric hood in the world. It takes just one touch of a button and nine seconds to collapse the fabric roof. A BMW 1-series cabrio's hood takes over twice as long to go through its motions, and coupe-cabriolet models tend to take nearly three times longer.

Once open the A3 cabrio is quite a looker, even if the way the hood itself stows into the rear bodywork leaves a teeny bit to be desired; unlike the 1-series (or most other cabrios) you can still see some of the mechanical gubbins on either side because there is no extra flap to hide them from view, which is a pity. Other than this there is much to like about the A3 cabrio, and not much to dislike.

The cabin draws most of its cues from the hatchback up front with a few extra touches, such as the instruments and dash trim on Sport and S-line models taken from the S3.

You get a six speed manual gearbox as standard on the 1.8 TFSI, and it's a good gearbox; light of touch, crisp, and fitted with a near-perfect set of ratios that enable you to make full use of the turbocharged petrol engine's useful spread of power.

Audi opted not to make the A3 cabriolet a CC-style hardtop, but the conventional canvas roof keeps a heated glass rear window. The advantage of this set-up is noticeably more boot space than CC rivals, with a decent 260 litres under the tailgate.

Rear seat space is also not as compromised as it might have been with a folding hard top. The bench seat might be a tad flat across its base but there is useable room for four full size adults inside the A3 cabrio, hood up or down, and that's a real one-up on its CC rivals.

Despite adding a few pounds compared with its hatchback sibling due to various (successful) attempts to keep it rigid, the A3 cab still feels perky, agile and surprisingly brisk on the road.

You sense almost no flex in the chassis, even over rough roads, and the steering remains every bit as well resolved as that of the hatchback. Which means it's a touch detached in outright feel, perhaps, but at the same time accurate, virtually kickback-free and impressively precise through quick corners.

The engine lacks a bit of sparkle in the aural department: it's an effective-but bland motor that displays neither enthusiasm or objection towards being revved. But it certainly delivers in terms of bald performance, endowing the A3 with acceleration not far short of the more expensive, heavier BMW 125i cabrio. Economy and CO2 emissions are decent, too - 37.2mpg and 174g/km.

If you like the way it looks then it's hard to see why not.

The A3 cabriolet is a good car to drive, and refreshingly free from the vices that normally afflict small chop-tops. The BMW 1-series cabrio has a very serious rival - or should that be the other way round?

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